On the cruise ship during our Writing the Waves voyage last month, sitting on my balcony watching the sun set heading across the Mediterranean from Rome toward Alexandria, Egypt, I heard an unseen couple on the balcony next door talking. She sounded like Olympia Dukakis. Apparently the pyramids were on her bucket list. She said, “We should write it down.” Now, you know any sentence with the word “write” in it is going to get my attention.
“Write what down?” He sounded like Vincent Gardenia, as if Cher’s parents from Moonstruck had the cabin next to mine.
“Our bucket list,” clarified Olympia.
“No,” he said. “I don’t want to do that.”
“Why not?” It was starting to sound more like a harangue. “Are you afraid if you did everything on the list, you’d die?”
Silence from old Vince. Maybe he did think that. You see how powerful writing can be? Words jotted down on the back of an envelope at twenty can unleash the fear of mortality thirty or forty years later.
In fact my original bucket list written in my mid-twenties included “ride a camel” which I was determined to do in Egypt. Some of the things on it I have outgrown or the world has changed enough that they no longer seem important or possible. I have ridden an elephant, though of the circus variety. I have not seen Narwhals in the wild, but I have seen some spectacular footage of them on the Planet Earth DVD. I’m still totally dedicated to seeing the Aurora Borealis. I haven’t had a play on Broadway yet, but I did have one Off Broadway for one glorious night and this is one of those dreams I will not stop aspiring to until the last breath of life sighs away. To be photographed under the heading “What becomes a legend most?” while wearing a black sable coat? Well some things have vanished into thin air. It was never the coat I was interested in anyway.
But my goal of seeing all seven continents got a big boost this month. Our ship dropped anchor in four separate continents, two of which I’d never set foot on before. Egypt, as you may have heard, is in Africa. And Istanbul, Turkey is the only city on earth that lies on two continents, Europe on the west end of the bridge over the Bosphorous, and Asia on the eastern end. I didn’t get across that bridge, but a few days later we were in Kusadasi, Turkey which is in Asia Minor, which guess what? Is part of Asia! I’m only missing Australia and Antarctica to have the full set from the actual Planet Earth.
We had a fabulous group of 20 writers on this year’s writing adventure. For the first trans-Atlantic leg we had 10, all women except for Richard O’Connell the well known poet. This group set a writing goal of 492 pages. When I totaled this, I encouraged everyone to up their goal by one page each so we could shoot for 500, a much cooler number. All agreed and at the end of two weeks, we had written 580! This is an average of 73 pages per person. (We didn’t average in the poet’s pages, as 20 pages for a poet is 100 pages for anyone else.)
In addition to all this writing, we had also been to Gibraltar (a British outpost whose huge rock is the logo for Prudential), Alicante, Spain, Barcelona, Spain, Marseilles, France where I had a romantic interlude with my college-year-abroad French boyfriend (more on this hopefully later), Florence and Rome, Italy.
Our ringer was Richard’s wife, a lovely little retired English professor (and actually English as well) Beryl O’Connell, who only started writing less than three years ago and on this voyage wrote 132 pages of a horror novel that was so suspenseful, I had to forbid her to read last during our 8 -10 pm critique groups every night after it gave me Rosemary’s Babyesque nightmares. So Beryl read first every night and we ended each evening with lighter fare.
In Rome we lost six who had to head home, and gained another ten writers, including my daughter Molly, 26, who met me at the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Our second group of 14 had three men in it. A better balance. And this group, even though the number of “At Sea” days was halved, set an even more ambitious goal of 518 pages. This group ended up writing 668 pages or an average of 58 pages per person.
Enough statistics. Let’s get to the exciting part where Cynthia rides a camel. We arrived in Alexandria, Egypt and climbed on a bus for a three hour ride up the Nile to Cairo and the Great Pyramids of Giza (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) and the Sphinx. I was surprised to see this country a mess. Trash and garbage everywhere. Canals clogged with litter. Unfinished buildings already turning into slum dwellings on the lower floors.
I had imagined that the pyramids would be out in the middle of the desert, but it turns out they are at the edge of the city, and there’s only one spot where you can photograph them without ugly buildings in the background. The sphinx is smaller than I imagined. But I did get on a camel. The exciting part is the moment the camel stands up. He stands on his back legs first, then the front, so for a harrowing moment you are sitting on a nearly vertical downward facing camel saddle. Ditto when he sits down at the end. So it’s hold on tight which I did and loved it. Worth the $7 for the ride plus one for the handler and one for the animal. I can’t think of a more fun way to blow $9.
By the time we had lunch and were getting back onto the bus, maybe ninety minutes later, a man on the street came running up to me yelling “Five dollars! Five dollars!” And waving an 8X10 color photo of me sitting on a camel with the pyramids in the background, tucked into a cute “See Egypt” photo folder. I never saw him take the shot, but you’ve got to reward this kind of effort and ingenuity. So I of course handed over $5. That night when we met for our nightly writers salon, and I announced “I rode a camel today,” Peggy, our resident actress instantly retorted, “I rode two camels.” So much for one’s moment of glory. All I could say to Peg was, “At the same time?”
I’ll share more adventures next month. In the meantime, if you love me or even like me a little, please go online to portlandshakes.org and buy tickets to my new play Lear’s Follies which will run at Artists Rep, NW15th and Morrison from July 11 to August 5. For my pitching class see the box on p XXX and for my fall screenwriting class see the box on p. XXX. See you all at the conference!
And remember, we writers never have to fear getting to the end of our bucket lists. We can write more things on them at any time. We hold the pens of immortality in our nimble fingers. I am remembering the immortal Ray Bradbury who as a small boy, volunteered to go up on stage at a carnival with “Mister Electrico” who reached toward little Ray’s chest and a spark of electricity arced across the air and zapped the little boy with a crackle, as Mr. E shouted, “Live forever!” And so you shall, Mr. Bradbury. So you shall.